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Default Camera Settings

This young African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) charged so unexpectedly, leaving no time at all to think. Getting the pic meant having the right camera settings and shooting instinctively.

This young African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) charged so unexpectedly, leaving no time at all to think. Getting the pic meant having the right camera settings and shooting instinctively.

We’re often asked what the best settings are for your camera when driving around a game reserve. The thing with wildlife photography (and a few other genres as well) is that, for the most part, you have no idea what’s going to pop up next. And, in many cases, when whatever it is, does pop up, you have to be onto it in an instant – no messing around with settings, exposures, white balance etc. So, what I do is set my camera up as follows:

  • Mode: Program (P).
  • ISO: 400.
  • White Balance (WB): Daylight (Sunny).
  • Focus Point: Centre.
  • Focus Mode: AI Servo or AF Continuous.
  • Drive: Continuous High.
  • Exposure Compensation: -⅔ (optional but it is safer)

We were in Ruaha National Park in Tanzania shooting pictures for our African Icons book. I was in the back of the game drive vehicle, the Nikon D7100 and AF-S 80 – 400 on my lap and we’d pretty much wrapped it up for the morning and were slowly heading back to camp. Out of the blue, this young leopard charged. We had no idea she was there or why she took offence… I saw her out the corner of my eye, coming from the right and slightly behind us. I picked up the camera and let rip – not even bothering to look through it – I just pointed the camera and blazed away. I doubt whether the whole incident took more than 2 seconds. Now, it’s not the world’s finest pic of a charging leopard but it is a photograph of a charging leopard. I got it! No time for setting exposures, focus point, focus mode or anything else. Hell, there wasn’t even time to look through the camera!

Once you have the image in the bag you can then afford to play – to get creative.

This young African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) charged so unexpectedly, leaving no time at all to think. Getting the pic meant having the right camera settings and shooting instinctively.

This young African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) charged so unexpectedly, leaving no time at all to think. Getting the pic meant having the right camera settings and shooting instinctively.

Roger de la Harpe

4 Comments

  1. Joy Mullin says:

    Useful info Roger and an amazing shot of the charging leopard.
    Don’t know who was more surprised, you or her.
    Thank you.

  2. Rob says:

    I agree with your settings except add “shoot in RAW” to the list. Many more experienced photogs sneer at P as they think it’s for beginners. Not at all it’s very useful to skew your exposure settings quickly at the turn of wheel. Depending if your priority is freezing motion or cranking the other way for DOF. I quite often set the shutter speed and aperture to the numbers I want on manual and then set ISO to Auto to look after the exposure. Might not work for all cameras but it works fine with cameras that have good high ISO performance – like my 6D.

    • Agreed Rob and, as always, there are a bunch of ways to do these things – whatever brings back the images really… And yes, RAW, of course. I would suggest that unless you have a good reason for shooting Jpegs (and there a number of reasons why you would), RAW should be your default setting in anyway.

      Roger

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